25 Days of Christmas: Day 25 ~ Christmas Around the World, Part V

Christmas in the Middle East

Although much of the Middle East is devoted to Islam – or, in Israel, to Judaism – every year thousands of Christians from around the world make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, especially Bethlehem. They come to visit the place where, according to the Gospels, it all began. Not surprisingly, this is the time of the year when Bethlehem is most popular, although the scope of the celebrations often depend on the political climate at the time.

The festivities in the “little town” center on the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds’ Fields. The Church of the Nativity is believed to stand on the place where Christ was born; under the church, within a small cave, a star on the floor marks the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus. The Shepherds’ Fields is said to represent the fields where the angels announced the arrival of Christ.

There are three Christian groups in Bethlehem. The Roman Catholics celebrate Christmas on December 25, the Greek Orthodox on January 6, and the Armenian Christians on January 18. Representatives protecting the interests of these three groups sit on a board that governs the Church of the Nativity, so that no group will be favored or slighted. No services are held within the church itself, but rather in an adjoining building. Services on Christmas Eve are by invitation only, but are televised to the crowds outside. Afterwards, most venture to the Shepherd’s’ Fields, which are also divided into three sections.

Christmas is also celebrated quite widely in Lebanon, with lights, carols, and midnight church services.  Papa Noel brings presents to children, and the meal often includes a cake that’s designed to resemble a Yule log.

Some of the more predominantly Muslim countries do have Christian sections, and in those sections Christmas is observed, although the observance is usually more strictly religious, as in Africa. Some countries, however, have Christian populations that have been celebrating Christmas for centuries.

In Armenia, it is believed that Christmas should be celebrated on the day of Christ’s baptism, which is January 6 in most church calendars. However, the Armenian Church follows the old Julian calendar, which marks this date as January 18. One week before Christmas there is a fast, during which no meat, eggs, cheese, or milk may be consumed. Religious services are held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Afterward, children go onto the roofs with handkerchiefs and sing carols; often the handkerchiefs are later filled with fruit, grain or money.

Christmas in the Far East

In the Far East, Christianity exists alongside such other faiths or ideologies as Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism. While Christians celebrate the holidays for its traditional meanings, many of the other aspects, such as decorating and gift giving, have been adopted more widely.

China

China was only opened to the West 400 years ago, so – relatively speaking – Christians and Christmas have not been around for long. A very small portion of the Christian ChinaChristmaspopulation celebrates Christmas that’s referred to as Sheng Dan Jieh, or the Holy Birth Festival. Christmas trees are called “trees of light,” and paper lanterns are intermingled with holly for decorations. Stocking are hung, and there are versions of Santa known as Lam Khoong-Khoong (nice old father) and Dun Che Lao Ren (Christmas old man). Gift given has some formal rules: Jewelry and other more-valuable gifts are only given to the immediate family; other gifts are given to relatives and friends.

More important to the majority of Chinese is the New Year, referred to as the Spring Festival, which is celebrated in late January. New toys and clothes are given and feasts are held. The spiritual aspects concern ancestor worship, and portraits of ancestors are displayed on New Year’s Eve. This is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas celebration, but it is a festive and popular seasonal undertaking.

Christmas in Other Parts of the World

Canada

CanadaChristmas1Christmas is celebrated in many different ways in Canada, a result of the way that cultural and religious groups from many parts of the world have found a home there. Many Canadians of Ukrainian descent, for example, follow the Orthodox church’s calendar, and celebrated Christmas on January 6. In French-speaking areas such as the providence of Quebec, the Roman Catholic traditions of displaying creches, or Nativity scenes, as decorations remain very strong, as does attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, followed by a hearty meal that includes tourtiere (a meat pie) and present opening.

The annual Santa Claus Parade in downtown Toronto began in 1905 as a way to celebrate the arrival of Santa at the Eaton’s department store. The first parade featured Santa arriving at the train station and walking to the store. Today, the parade – with bands, clowns, and intricately decorated floats – features almost 2,000 participants and stretches for more than three miles.

Along with the widespread North American traditions of decorating the home inside CanadaChristmasand out with lights, visiting Santa at local stores and malls to offer him a wish list, and decorating Christmas trees with ornaments and lights, many Canadians Christmas traditions depend on geography.

In the north, for example, the winter season was often celebrated before the arrival of Christmas with feasts, games, dogsled races, and gift exchanges. Known as Quviasuvvik, or the Happy Time, many of these traditions have now been wrapped into the church services and charitable causes that are part of Canadian customs throughout the country.

In Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast, the Carol Ships are an annual traditional, as boats decorated with sparkling lights to take the harbor in a nightly parade throughout December.

Australia

AustraliaChristmas1As in South Africa, Christmas falls during summer vacation down under. Because of the climate, flowers are the most important Christmas decoration, particularly the Christmas Bush and the Christmas Bell. Father Christmas and Santa exist side by side – like siblings, which they certainly are. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas morning before attending church. Typically, the afternoon is spent at the beach or engaging in sports.

AustraliaChristmasAustralia is also the home of “Carols by Candlelight,” a tradition stated by radio announcer Norman Banks in 1937. After Banks saw a woman listening to carols alone by candlelight, he decided to do something to relieve the loneliness and isolation some feel during the holidays. He announced a community carol sing for anyone who wanted to join in. The concept has grown in popularity over the years, and the recorded program is now broadcast over the world.

 (Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)

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Regardless of where you live or how you celebrate the Birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. From our home to yours, we wish you the Merriest of Christmases and Happiest of New Year’s.

 

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25 Days of Christmas: Day 23 ~ Christmas Around the World, Part III

Christmas in Central America and the West Indies

Honduras

Hondurans have their own version of posadas. For nine days before Christmas, the faithful act out Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging. Once house in the village is chosen to be the place of shelter, where people go to sing and pray. Tamales are served, dances and firework displays are held, and people visit each other’s creches.

Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, the Nativity scene is given its own room, not just a spot in a corner or on a table. In accordance with the climate, the decorations consist of brilliantly colored flowers and wreaths of cypress leaves and red coffee berries. Children put out their shoes for the Christ Child to fill, as their parents did, but Santa is beginning to show up more and more.

Nicaragua

By late November, festivities have started in Nicaragua. Children gather in the streets with bouquets to honor the Virgin Mary with song. This portion of the holiday ends on December 8, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. On December 16, the Novena to the Holy Child begins; another kind of posada, it concludes on Christmas Eve at midnight Mass. Children receive gifts from the Three Kings on January 6.

Panama

Schoolchildren in Panama emerge in pre-Christmas activities much like the ones enjoyed by American children. Decorations and cards are made, gifts are exchanged, and there are plays. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are celebrated, with the meal including chicken with rice and tamales. Once again, children receive gifts on Epiphany, King’s Day.

Puerto Rico

Understandably, there is a large American influence on the Puerto Rican Christmas, which features a mixture of Spanish and American traditions. Puerto Ricans have Santa Claus and a tree, but received gifts on both Christmas and Epiphany. A fun pre-Christmas tradition is Asalto, in which a band of people appear on someone’s lawn to shout, sing carols, and plead for goodies. The owner usually opens up his or her home to them; after a small party, the group moves on to another house. Generally Christmas in Puerto Rico lasts from early December to Las Octavitas, which is eight days after Epiphany.

 

(Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)

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25 Days of Christmas: Day 18 ~ A Century of American Christmases, Part II (1930-1950)

Christmas in the 1930s

The Thirties were a time of great hardship for many people, as the Great Depression took hold of the continent. By the end of the decade, as World War II began in Europe, social programs and work projects such as those tackled by the Civilian Conservation Corps has been launched. Even the toys reflected the times: Board games such as Monopoly, which was introduced in 1935 became popular partially because they were less expensive than many other forms of entertainment.

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1930s Christmas Budget

The child’s red wagon in the list remains a staple of childhood play even today.

  • Satin mens pajamas – $10.95
  • Pullman men’s slippers – $4.00
  • Quart bottle of Monopole champagne – $5.00
  • Boy’s knickers – $1.49
  • Doll, layette, and basket – $4.94
  • Dollhouse – $5.00
  • Toy airplane – $0.65
  • Toy typewritter – $1.95

 Christmas in the 1940s

1940sWorld War II defined the first half of the 1940s, associated with images of Rosie the Riveter as women went to work to replace the men who left for the war. Television arrived later in the decade, as did the very first computer and the traditional American diner. Forties-era toys included the Slinky, Tonka trucks, and Silly Putty.

1940s Christmas Budget

  • Zippered rayon ladies’ robe – $6.98
  • Upright vacuum cleaner – $49.90
  • Electric iron – $2.49
  • Electric coffee maker – $6.98
  • Roller skates – $9.95
  • Magnetized soldier doll with American flag – $4.00
  • Tiddlywinks game – $0.39

Christmas in the 1950s

1950sTelevision became perhaps the greatest influence during the 1950s, bringing programs such as The Honeymooners and Father Knows Best into living rooms across the nation, first in black and white, than in color.  Rock and roll arrived on the music scene, as did a polio vaccine on the health front. Mr. Potato Head, Frisbees, and Barbie dolls made names for themselves in the toy department.

1950s Christmas Budget

  • Slide projector – $43.95
  • Men’s topcoat – $18.00
  • Quilted rayon and taffeta robe – $8.95
  • Pipe and lighter set – $1.94
  • Television set with life-size seventeen-inch screen – $229.95
  • Donald Duck xylophone – $2.65
  • Mickey Mouse train set – $1.59
  • Musical milk mug – $6.95

(Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)

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25 Days of Christmas: Day 14 ~ “Yes, Virginia…”

…There Is a Santa Claus

Editor Francis P. Church’s letter to Virginia O’Hanlon is one of the most touching written demonstrations of the importance in believing in what cannot be seen, touched, or proven. The letter originally appeared in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun. More than a century later, it remains a classic.

We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of the Sun:

Virginia_Santa_Claus“Dear Editor, I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say this is no SANTA CLAUS. Papa says “If you see it in the Sun it’s so..” Please tell me the truth, is there a SANTA CLAUS?”

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Clause! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Clause. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what make the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest many, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. It is all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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Francis Pharcellus Church (1839-1906) was one of the editorial writers at the New York Sun when he wrote this letter. He was a veteran writer and editor, having covered the Civil War for the New York Times. He also came from a publishing family: Both his father and his brother founded newspapers and magazines.

 

25 Days of Christmas: Day 9 ~ Christmas In America

American Christmas

Columbus’ 1492 voyage to the New World ended when he ran aground on Christmas Eve, and he and his men were rescued by native peoples. His was, of course, the first of many such expeditions to what would eventually be called the Americas. Later explorers found the inhabitants of these unfamiliar lands engaging in end-of-the-year festivals just as people did back in Europe. Peoples in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska had winter celebrations; a tribe in North Dakota hung gifts on cedar trees.

To understand modern Christmas traditions, however, you need to look toward Europe. The first wave of European settlers to the colonies came from English, Dutch, and Germanic backgrounds. These groups, representing a variety of churches and religious affiliations, organized communities according to the traditions and values of their heritage. Among other religious, cultural, and political differences during the colonial period, was the question of Christmas. In this case, there was scant middle ground; Some were completely for it, some completely opposed.

Outlawing Christmas in America

The celebration of Christmas in early America depended very much on where the settlers had come from in the Old World. Those with traditional English backgrounds tended to recognize the holiday, while the Separatist or Puritan pilgrims brought with them the sentiments of the Protestant Reformation in seventeenth century England: They believed that the day didn’t necessarily reflect Christ’s true birth date, and they disapproved of the excesses involved in its celebration. Excerpts from the diary of Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony, for example, give a dismal description of Christmas in 1621, describing only work and the discouragement of celebration.

Not surprisingly, the traditions of the English grew even more unpopular after the American Revolution. Christmas had a long way to go in the new United States of America.

Christmas Comes Back

puritan-christmasThe Puritans were not the only group of settlers in early America, however. In Virginia, the Cavaliers (seventeenth-century English royalists) observed Christmas by ringing bells, decorating evergreens, and feasting. Dutch immigrants also arrived in the seventeenth century, along with their Christmas traditions, which included Sinter Klaas. And, of course, settlers from Germany also brought their strong holiday traditions with them.

This steady influx of moderates from overseas brought about the repeal of the anti-Christmas law in 1681, and the first Christmas services were held in Boston Town Hall in 1686. Still, even when it was no longer illegal, Christmas remained a workday in Boston. Although Alabama declared Christmas a legal holiday in 1836, the first state to do so, the same was not done in Boston until 1856, and children there were attending school on Christmas day until 1870.

In the nineteenth century, it seemed that wherever Germans settled in America, they brought Christmas cheer. In Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and elsewhere they kept their love of Christmas alive. In some places they were surrounded by some of the holidays’ staunchest opponents, but they carried on anyway, and gradually gained converts to their merry ways. An infusion of Victorian Christmas spirit that began in the middle of the nineteenth century, coupled with the continued dedication to the holiday by German immigrants and their descendants, brought about the beginning of the Christmas that Americans recognize today.

Another important influence in bringing Christmas to America was author Washington Irving. He introduced St. Nicholas in his 1809 book A History of New York, and followed that up with The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819, in which his stories about an English manor house Christmas evoked traditional elements of the holiday, including a Lord of Misrule. In Irving’s Christmas writings, peach and generosity ruled, rather than the raucous partying that had so dismayed Puritan leaders and led to the holiday’s banning.

The American South led the way in returning Christmas, with Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas all declaring the day an official holiday in the 1830s. The federal government didn’t follow until 1870. In 1890, Oklahoma – the last contiguous state or territory that did not officially recognize Christmas as a holiday – also changed its mind. The country was now celebrating from sea to shining sea, gradually incorporating customs and traditions from all over the world.

(Jeffery, Yvonne, “The Everything Family Christmas Book”)

Garland1-1Festive Fact

Christmas was officially banned in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681, rolled in together with such frowned-upon activities as gambling. Those who disobeyed the law, and were found celebrating the holiday by feasting or drinking, for example, could be fined five shillings.

Holiday Helper

Hessian troops at Trenton, unwilling to forsake their customary celebrations during the Christmas season of 1776, were taken by surprise by General Washington in one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War. As it happens, Hessians, who came from central Germany, are believed to have been the first to set up a Christmas tree on American soil.